Yogurt is a simple food. Just two or three ingredients are combined and heated, forming something creamy, healthy, thirst-quenching and the culinary staple for countless otherwise disparate cultures. Yogurt is made by heating milk with bacterial cultures. That’s it. In fact, yogurt is super easy to make at home (although it does require space and time). I highly recommend readers and students try making it, if only a few times, especially if they have kids or are concerned about getting the highest quality nutrition possible from food. The basic recipe is easy to find online.
While this recipe of milk and cultures is basic, a stroll down any diary aisle reveals a surfeit of yogurt brands. The difference between brands, when referring strictly to plain unsweetened yogurt, is largely in the type of milk and cultures used, and how much the whey is drained from the milk in production.
Milks can range from cow to sheep to goat to soy and even rice, and from raw to highly pasteurized. Bacteria can range from just a few freeze-dried types to several fresh and live cultures. Straining can range from not much –resulting in a soft yogurt– to quite a bit, resulting in a Greek-style yogurt.
If you keep up on food trends, you will quickly discover that Greek yogurt continues its hot rise to the top of the charts. It is a heavily marketed commodity on dairy shelves, and the number of brands, flavors and styles available have exponentially grown simultaneous to the increasing popularity and demand for the product.
For anyone not in the know, Greek yogurt sold in the United States is very rarely actually from Greece. Instead, the name refers to the style of yogurt, which is quite thick compared to the traditional American style, and reflective of the tangy, thick yogurts served in Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey and the Levant.
Greek-style yogurt is simply plain yogurt that has been strained repeatedly, allowing the liquid whey to drain away. Since straining creates a thick texture, Greek-style yogurt doesn’t need added fat for density or taste. It is typically found in fat free or 2% milk fat form. Cabot makes a 10% fat yogurt. A look at the ingredients shows that cream is added in to the recipe to increase the fat content.
Greek style yogurt is popular because it has multiple health benefits. Of course, since it is made from low or no-fat milks, it is a light food. But it is also packed with protein, sometimes twice as much as a traditional style yogurt. For example, a conventional grocery brand nonfat plain yogurt is about 80 calories, has 12 grams of sugar and 8 grams of protein. A similar sized, same brand Greek-style yogurt also has 80 calories, but only 6 grams of sugar and 15 of protein.
According to Jen Salos, MS CNC and founding pratitioner of Chesapeake Holistis Health, another health benefit of Greek yogurt is the presence of essential probiotics. The body naturally has probiotic bacteria in the gut. These beneficial bugs help with many key bodily functions, including digestion, elminiation and immunity. In fact, some doctors preserice a cup or two of yogurt each day when taking antibiotics, as the yogurt helps to balance acidity, yeast and bacteria in the gut. Supplementing with probiotics then, is essential for gut health. Greek-style yogurt makes getting all those probiotics so delicious, making it a very good thing!
It’s important to remember that all yogurt, whether it is marketed as such or not, has live active cultures, including probiotics. Some new yogurts on the market claim to be especially good for digestive health. But a quick glance at the ingredient list indicates artificial sugars and additives such as inulin, a type of fiber. The addition or definition of specific types of probiotics is sadly missing.
So be careful of the marketing hype around probiotics and active cultures.
- Yogurt naturally has the bacteria already;
- Different types of cultures provide different benefits;
- The bacteria has to be treated gently during production in order to remain active and therefore beneficial. The heat of pasteurization can affect the efficacy of the probiotics;
- Different bodies need different amounts and types of probiotics.
Give some thought to simply buying a good probiotic from your holistic practitioner or from a natural foods store. These probiotics can be kept fresh and active in the refrigerator and with this method you are in control of exactly what goes into your food.
Perhaps the ultimate reason to try Greek-style yogurt is because of its versatile culinary attributes. In its simplest form, Greek-style yogurt is perfect with fresh fruit and a little agave nectar, or perhaps atop a compote of hot poached fruit much like whipped cream. But it can also be a dressing, a dip, a dessert, a condiment and even a marinade, where it’s high acidity helps tenderize any variety of meats or even tofu. It is especially lovely way to add moisture to a salmon filet when combined with herbs or spices and then basted across the fish prior to baking or grilling. It can be whipped with cream cheese or mascarpone for a tart filling or melted with chocolate for a tangy, sweet frosting. It is a superb substitute for buttermilk in pancakes and quick breads, or for high fat mayonnaise, butter, oil or sour cream. Here are a few recipes.
And a few tips to keep in mind:
- It’s easy to substitute Greek yogurt for buttermilk or heavy cream. Simply add a drop or two of water to match the consistency.
- Temperance and proper application are of course, important: Greek yogurt is a great substitute for mayonnaise in most applications, but a BLT, a spicy remoulade for French fries or a good lobster roll shouldn’t have to suffer the indignity of going low fat.
- Never add yogurt directly to a boiling or extremely hot mixture—heating yogurt over 120° F destroys the beneficial bacteria.
- Instead, temper the yogurt by stirring a spoonful or two of the hot food into it, allowing it to warm gradually. Otherwise, use the yogurt as a topping or condiment.
- Heating yogurt too rapidly can cause it to separate into curds and whey. Warm the yogurt to room temperature before adding it to hot mixtures, and by tempering slowly, stirring constantly.
- Greek yogurt is awesome with any number or herbs, spices or even citrus juices. Make sure to taste as you go—the flavors will take time to develop in the yogurt, and it’s difficult to undo too much. In this case, just add more yogurt.
- It’s best to fold the yogurt into recipes, rather than stirring vigorously.
- Avoid using aluminum cook or bakeware when cooking with yogurt, as the acidity of yogurt can react negatively with these types of metal.
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